Tag Archives: lyrical language

Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers

14 Apr

In honor of National Poetry Month and Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’m shining the spotlight on a brilliant Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award Winner from 1997:

“They took to the road in Waycross, Georgia

Skipped over the tracks in East St. Louis

Took the bus from Holly Springs

Hitched a ride from Gee’s Bend

Took the long way through Memphis

The third deck down from Trinidad

A wrench of heart from Gorree Island 

A wrench of heart from Gorree Island

To a place called Harlem

Harlem was a promise

Of a better life, of a place where a man didn’t

Have to know his place

Simply because he was Black.”

 

Thus begins a tactile and rhythmic journey through Harlem. This book may have been written twenty years ago, but it feels quite contemporary. Current nonfiction writers are increasingly telling the stories of people, events, or places with similar atmospheric details and poetic language. Walter Dean Myers was far ahead of his time.  

The only thing missing is back matter. The names of people and places are sprinkled throughout, but if you want to know more, you must do the research. If this book were being published in 2017, you can bet the back matter would be rich with details, including a timeline with key events and people as well as author/illustrator notes. 

Although Walter Dean Myers has passed, I would love to see a new edition of this book published, complete with back matter and an illustrator’s note from Christopher Myers, Walter’s son. 

The collage illustrations add so much texture to the poem that I would recommend reading the picture book. However, if you just want to immerse yourself in Myers’ poem, here’s a link to the text of “Harlem” online. 

Title: Harlem

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Illustrator: Christopher Myers

Publisher: Scholastic Press, 1997

Target Audience: Everyone

This Is the Rope – Perfect Picture Book Friday

22 Jan

I loved Jacqueline Woodson’s MG/YA book, “Brown Girl Dreaming.” It was the first book I’d ever read by this fabulous writer. So I went in search of some of her picture books. And I’m happy to say that I love “This Is the Rope” just as much. So here’s my book for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday:

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Why I Like It: Lyrical language. Gorgeous and evocative illustrations (oil on paper) by James Ransome. A fictional story that tells a larger truth, it’s a book I could read over and over again. 

Theme: The Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North in the United States. A short foreword to the book explains how from the 1900s until the mid 1970s, more than six million African Americans moved from the rural South to several northern cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, seeking better lives. (It’s also a story of how families and individuals within them create their personal narratives.)

At the end of the foreword Woodson states: “‘This Is the Rope’ is a work of fiction. The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope. It remains with us.”

Story: The narrative traces the journey of a rope from South Carolina to New York City, a journey that takes it from the hands of a girl (the grandmother) skipping rope under “sweet-smelling pine” in South Carolina, ties it around the luggage strapped on top of car headed toward NYC, hangs it in an apartment to dry flowers, strings it out as a line to dry laundry for freshly washed diapers for the grandmother’s first baby(the author’s mother), uses it as a cord for a pull-toy as the baby gets older, entices neighbors to play jump rope with the growing girl, gets used to tie luggage onto the car as the teenage girl goes to college, and ties up a family reunion banner as the third generation takes its place in history.

The ending circles back to the grandmother, now holding that “threadbare and greying” rope, watching her granddaughter use a new rope for jump rope games. She holds onto that rope “and her long-ago memory of sweet-smelling pine.”

One of my favorite quotes:

“This is the rope my daddy used

when he showed me the way

to tie a sailor’s knot—

‘Two times around and pull it real tight.

You want whatever you make or do

in your life,’ my daddy said, ‘to last…”

 

Title: This Is the Rope

Author: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrator: James Ransome

Publisher: Penguin Book Group: Nancy Paulsen Books

Pub Date: 2013

Ages: K-3rd grade 

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Jacqueline Woodson

Biography

Jacqueline Woodson’s awards include 3 Newbery Honors, a Coretta Scott King Award and 3 Coretta Scott King Honors, 2 National Book Awards, a Margaret A. Edwards Award and an ALAN Award — both for Lifetime Achievement in YA Literature. She is the author of more than 2 dozen books for children and young adults and lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York
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